When taken in the right quantity, iron is deemed to be safe for most people. Like other tablets, it can have side effects like diarrhea or constipation, stomach upset and pain, vomiting and nausea. You can try reducing these side effects by taking the supplements with food. On the other hand, food can reduce the rate of iron absorption by your body. If possible, one is advised to take iron supplements on an empty stomach. If the side effects are many, taking them with food is advisable. However, there are foods you should avoid like cereals, tea, coffee and those containing daily products.
How to Take Iron Tablets
1. Things to Do Before Taking the Tablets
Before using the tablets, you need to inform the pharmacist or your doctor about any medical condition(s) that you may have since some interact with iron. Among those that you must mention the following:
- If you are expectant, plan on being pregnant or you are breast-feeding
- If you are on any medication whether prescription or nonprescription, diet supplements or any herbs
- Any allergies that you may have to foods, medicine and any other substance
- Any problem you have with your bowel or stomach, for example, Crohn disease, colitis, ulcers or diverticulitis
- If you have any type of anemia like pernicious anemia, hemolytic anemia or any other anemia related condition like glucose-6-phospate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency or sickle cell disease
- If you have had many blood transfusions or had any blood problem such as thalassemia and porphyria
It is wise to inform the doctor if you are taking any other medication since some might interact with iron. Some of them are: Penicillamine, mycophoenolate, doxycycline and thyroid hormones like levothyroxine, since iron might reduce their effectiveness.
However, there are others that might interact with iron apart from those that have been mentioned. It is better to consult with your doctor about any other medication you might be taking.
2. How to Take the Tablets
- Prior to starting the treatment, take out the manufacturer’s printed advice and read it through. You will know more about the supplements and you will see a list of possible side effects that may come about after taking the supplements.
- It is advisable to take the supplements about an hour before you eat, for which iron is directly absorbed into your blood. However, if you feel irritated after ingesting the tablet, you can take it after a meal in order to ease the irritation.
- Take the tablets according to the doctor’s prescription. Mostly, the dosage will range from once to thrice daily, and be keen on the timing in order not to forget.
- In case you forget, take the next dose as required and do not combine with the missed dose trying to compensate for it.
Possible Side Effects of Iron Tablets
Just like any other medication, the tablets might cause side effects. All these side effects might not occur, but if they do, seek medical attention.
Common Side Effects
- Stomach and abdominal pain
- Soreness or cramping (continuing)
- Backache, side, groin or muscle pain
- Chest pain
- Accelerated heartbeat
- Fever accompanied by increasing sweating
- Taste of metal in the mouth
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pain, tingling or numbness of feet and hands
- Redness of the skin
- Hives or rashes
- Swelling of throat and mouth
- Problematic breathing
Less Common Side Effects
- Double vision
- Felling unwell
- Weakness minus dizziness or feeling faint
- Pain in the chest and throat mostly when swallowing
- Stool with traces of blood (black or red color)
In case you overdose, you will experience symptoms and signs like severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting, bluish or pale fingernails and skin and general body weakness. For most children, an iron overdose causes poisoning, which can be lethal. If you get any of the mentioned symptoms, treat them as an emergency and seek immediate medical assistance.
How to Deal With the Side Effects of Iron Tablets
In most cases, your stool will become dark because of taking iron supplements. However, there are other people who have side effects that make it difficult to continue with the prescribed dosage. The most common side effects are constipation and stomach upsets. If you experience constipation, then you can take a stool softener to solve that problem. To have an easy time with your tablets and for them to be effective, you need to follow the tips:
- To minimize the stomach upsets that occur when you take the tablets, start with half the prescribed dose; then increase progressively to the full dose.
- The tablets are most effective if taken 30 minutes before meals, but your doctor might advise you to take them with food in order to minimize stomach upsets.
- If you get constipated because of iron, you can take docusate sodium or any other stool softener together with your tablets. The pharmacist can assist picking out one that is better suited for you.
- Avoid taking caffeine, antacids and calcium supplements together with iron tablets as they will decrease the absorption of iron.
If you cannot ingest tablets at all, your health provider can recommend an iron injection that is effective and alternative to the tablets.